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Dining Out

A special bond

Chef offers new tastes and an inviting atmosphere

On a menu that changes nightly at Bondir, chef-owner Jason Bond may serve roasted Kuri squash (above) or a plate of Scituate scallops. On a menu that changes nightly at Bondir, chef-owner Jason Bond may serve roasted Kuri squash (above) or a plate of Scituate scallops. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / February 9, 2011

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It’s the end of a wonderful meal, and the staff at Bondir is tiptoeing past our table, arms full of woolens. They stop in front of the fireplace, where they unfurl our coats, holding them before the flames until the garments are toasty. It’s a cold night we’re heading into. They want us to take some of the restaurant’s warmth with us.

It’s one last thoughtful gesture at this most thoughtful restaurant, a reflection of its chef-owner, Jason Bond. When you’re seated by the fire having a glass of wine before dinner, some little nibble appears at your elbow — perhaps periwinkles to be extracted from their shells with a golden paperclip. Servers are unfailingly solicitous, more friendly than polished. The check comes with macarons to sweeten the deal, the French cookies flavored with black sesame — although when you look at the bill, you may be surprised to find how reasonable it is.

Above all, Bond is thoughtful about food. His menu changes each night. Bread is baked daily, in varieties such as sepia-nori and caraway-currant. Most dishes are available as generous half- or full-portions, so you can tailor your meal to suit your mood. Ingredients are largely local, seasonal, and sustainable. This can be a hazard for a New England chef in February, but here you never find yourself thinking, “This is amazingly delicious for a meal based on roots and winter greens.’’ You simply think, “This is amazingly delicious.’’

For instance, in one dish you might find all those roots shaved into delicate ribbons and served with a bounty of South Shore shellfish — mussels out of their shells, seared scallops, and oysters. It’s dressed in pistachio vinaigrette, the nuts dense and almost meaty. (An accompanying flatbread is incidental, adding little in terms of flavor or texture.)

Or roasted squash could be paired with an explosion of baby radishes, turnips, and carrots, cooked in butter until they are meltingly tender, with a little cake on the side made from teff. You probably know it best as the base of the Ethiopian bread injera, but Bond prepares it like polenta.

This restaurant is the chef’s first solo venture. He was previously at Beacon Hill Bistro, where he took French food and made it his own. You could eat perfect steak frites there, but also the likes of duck cured in smoky Hu-Kwa tea with guanciale and salsify. At Bondir, opened in November, underpinnings of French technique remain. But the restaurant flies no specific flag, and Bond is freer than ever to experiment with flavors, ingredients, and methods.

His food is both playful and careful, as in a dish of beautiful handmade pappardelle. Fava leaves are rolled into the dough so bits of green peek through. The pasta is served curled high upon itself like a castle, its ramparts ridged with crunchy bread crumbs, black kale, fresh ricotta, and celery that has been braised in Pu-erh tea. Another night, cavatelli are served with venison ragu, deep with red wine and enriched with bits of liver. The meat gets added dimension from cocoa nibs, a dark crunch of chocolate in the midst of richness. It’s a valentine on a plate.

The restaurant is located just outside Central Square, an urban cabin. Painted white and jadeite green, it’s cozy and neat as a pin. The brick hearth greets you, blazing merrily. Logs for the fire are stacked neatly beneath the antique wood benches that line the walls, softened by cushions upholstered in a bird pattern. Food is served on mismatched plates decorated with flowers and fruit; there’s a fresh flower on each table. The walls are bare, save for a brushstroke painting of a pig. Bond’s grandfather is the artist, and the pig’s name was Tan. He was a Mangalitsa, a heritage breed. He has been eaten, but you can thank his brother Black for the delicious pancetta in your potato-leek soup.

Served in a white bowl, the silky liquid is nutty and earthy from the potatoes and leeks. Then there’s a surprise, something that pops between your teeth like fish eggs but tastes like citrus. It’s the innards of an oblong fruit called the finger lime. Some chefs create fruit caviar by combining juice with ingredients like sodium alginate, a la molecular gastronomy. Bond seeks out the esoteric ingredient that offers the same effect.

Soup is a constant on this rotating menu. Another night, it’s made from Georgia candy roaster squash, an heirloom variety I have never seen in a restaurant before. The soup is a rusty brown, spiced like gingerbread, with a white, foamy line running down the middle. This turns out to be marshmallow, with an added zing from North African spices. Caramelized shallots and bee pollen are sprinkled on top. It’s a sophisticated riff on Thanksgiving sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows.

Beet salad also recurs, a dish ubiquitous on Boston menus. Bond makes it interesting again. He takes a spice-poached beet, cuts it into cubes, and reassembles it like a puzzle. He serves it with tender lettuce, pumpkin seeds, blood orange, and buttermilk vinaigrette. The spices don’t stand out, but the beet pairs wonderfully with the cool buttermilk dressing.

Bondir’s cuisine is so detailed, one wonders how he — with the help of cooks Lan Lam and Daniel Amighi — has time to create all the garnishes and components that make the dishes special. To look at consecutive menus is to see a chef’s mind at work, repurposing and recycling. You might eat crisp and succulent duck leg confit, served with wild mushroom and bean stew, caramelized cauliflower, and a cornmeal cake you will want again for breakfast. The next night, the leftover duck might be shredded into a pasta dish.

Scituate lobster on another visit is served with a puree of celeriac, roasted kohlrabi, and pickled honshimeji mushrooms, offering puckery bursts of contrasting flavor. The pickled mushrooms reappear later in a dish of Scituate scallops, nearly 3 inches across and expertly seared and salted. The sweet shellfish come with bright green celery puree — Bond appreciates the delicate, vegetal flavor of this vegetable, which does not get enough love — and a roasted pink radish. Cooking has turned it into a melting dumpling of a root, lightly spiced and with a texture all its own. It is a brilliant dish.

So is Wagyu beef sauerbraten, no humble pot roast this. The meat shreds into tender bites; it comes with carrots braised in red wine, sweet-and-sour red cabbage, and pears that have been showered in black pepper and cooked until jammy. These same components appear on an earlier menu with thin slices of venison leg, part of the same deer from which the ragu is made.

Dessert is composed with the same thoughtfulness and playfulness, with names such as Tangerine Dream (sponge cake with thyme-buttermilk ice cream and tangerine, topped with meringue brulee) and Chocolate Enlightenment (a pyramid of chocolate with parsnip puree, rooibos tea froth, and candied Buddha’s hand citrus).

Bondir serves wine and beer only. Servers, well versed in the menu, are less knowledgeable here. A few whites and reds are offered by the glass, and a crisp, cold Austrian gruner veltliner one evening is a fine accompaniment to the food. Prosecco is also available by the glass; one more bubbly option would be welcome for sipping before dinner. But the list puts the emphasis back on bottles, and that’s welcome. When everyone at the table may be sharing a wide assortment of different dishes, there’s less need to worry about pairing the food. It seems fitting to also share a nice bottle, such as the 2006 Rainoldi Nebbiolo, which smells like tar and roses. Many of the brews come from local outfits such as Pretty Things, with several from Belgium and beyond. Vermouth appears on the dessert menu, along with other aperitifs that would be nice to know about before the meal.

Bondir is special. It’s the rare restaurant equally suitable for regular weeknight visits and celebratory occasions. Eating here is a highly personal experience, never quite the same twice. You will find ingredients you’ve never tasted before, and familiar ones prepared new ways. You will be well cared for. And when you leave, you will take some of the warmth with you.

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@globe.com.

BONDIR

279A Broadway, Cambridge. 617-661-0009. www.bondircambridge.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $9-$10. Half-portions $12-$16. Full portions $23-$30. Desserts $8-$10.

Hours Wed-Mon 5-10 p.m.

Noise level Conversation easy.

May we suggest

Whatever chef Jason Bond is serving — the menu changes each night. Pasta, scallop, and duck dishes are always excellent.

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor